Prepare yourself for Alaska, the Land of the Midnight Sun: a place where glaciers crackle in mysterious fjords; where bears, wolves and bald eagles animate miles of majestic, thick, seemingly impenetrable forests; whales, porpoises, otters and sea lions grace an astonishing coastline.
After flying into Anchorage, we travel to our first campsite in time for an evening orientation along the Turnagain Arm, where we witness the second highest tides in the world. Here we prepare for our first adventure in Denali State Park. Situated between the Talkeetna Mountains to the east and the Alaska Range to the west, our landscape varies from meandering lowland streams to alpine tundra. Moose, black and grizzly bears, wolves, and fleets of seabirds bring the seas and skies to life. Dominating this diverse terrain is Kesugi Ridge, an alpine ridge that affords some of the best views of Mt. McKinley in the state. For four days, we follow the ridge backpacking past alpine lakes and through dense forests. On this first backpack, we'll focus on the basics of loading a pack, pressure breathing, river crossings, selecting backcountry campsites and Leave No Trace ethics.
The next day we move to Whittier where we load our gear into tandem sea kayaks in the glacial waters of Prince William Sound and paddle off towards Blackstone Bay. As we weave in and out of floating impressive bergs, we are overwhelmed with the remarkable tidewater and dripping glaciers. Surrounded by Chugach National Forest, Decision Point is our first destination. With 15,000-square miles of countless bays and islands, lush rainforest, towering mountains, spectacular glaciers, and over 2,500 miles of rugged coast, this is the ideal place to explore by sea kayak. Camped on a small beach, we behold the magnificent Lawrence, Blackstone and Beloit Glaciers. Paddling through bobbing icebergs, the overwhelming beauty of Blackstone Bay builds with each stroke. Sheer rock walls echo cracks of thunder as glaciers calve into the Sound. Like Eskimo kayakers before us, we silently approach harbor seals resting on ice floes and witness 500-foot waterfalls cascading down the icy cliffs.
After exploring the Sound, we’re off to the Matanuska Glacier, where we spend three days enveloped in the intricacies of ice and snow mountaineering. By the light of the midnight sun, we hone the skills needed to negotiate the glacier: ice climbing, crampon techniques, self-arrest, crevasse rescue and glacial navigation. At 27 miles long by 4 miles wide, it 's a good place to examine glacier-borne rocks and to peer down into crevices and imagine the decades and physical forces that went into the glacier's creation, now slowly disappearing. An unusual feature of the glacier is the presence of a "weather hole," making the climate unusually sunny and clear. Perhaps part of the attraction of this glacier is being present as this cold creature, born in the Chugach Mountains, visibly dissolves into a new form: the Matanuska River, running full-bore to the sea. We take to the waters and for two days we paddle the fast stretch of glacial whitewater grey from the silt and boulders that make the ride that much wilder as it gets squeezed between rock and ice. The mid-summer glacial melt and the higher water of evening combine to bathe the magnificent peaks of the Chugach Range in the soft hues of the midnight sun.
The next day we mobilize for our final adventure in Alaska - a five-day hike through the remote Talkeetna Mountains. With a wealth of pointy summits, soaring icy passes and endless humbling glaciers, the Talkeetnas provide the perfect finale to our time in Alaska. Focusing on route-finding and navigation this hike affords us numerous opportunities to enjoy the solitude of the Alaskan bush.
We end our journey where it began in Anchorage and conclude our voyage with a feast as we lean back, relax and marvel at our accomplishments.